Friday, May 30, 2008

Nintendo DS in the class - Whats good beginning to look like?

Yesterday Oakdale Junior were featured in the Wanstead and Woodford Guardian, with a good write up about their DS project, the only exaggeration was that the school was the first in England to use the DS, still this was not as over inflated as their tabloid big brother.Last week, 'The Sun' ( a reputable news source I know) reported erroneously that Oakdale was the first in the UK to use the DS as a Learning device.

Well regular readers will know that they were not first in the UK, but first in borough. We wanted to experiment with the DS following Derek Robertson's enthusiastic talk on them @ Teachmeet back in January. Have a look at the footage that Nic shot on his phone, if you haven't seen it already.

Derek has been doing great and exciting things with games and consoles in Scotland for quite some time, so we certainly were not the first.

Oakdale were chosen to run a project with the kit this term after all schools were given the opportunity to bid for an innovation project, involving either Robosapiens, Asus machines, visualisers and of course our one prized set of Nintendos. The school was chosen because their bid proved that they would be outcome focused and that they would ensure that their findings were sharable.

I had envisaged that the school would follow the model laid down by LTS, in that one school would use the device regularly on a daily basis. They would be tested both before, during and after the project. Their results in mental maths would be compared to a control class and a class that was using just brain gym. They didn't follow that model. But more on this later.

While we waited for the devices to be shipped earlier this year, a time of national DS shortage, I looked at various projects involving DS and drew a few conclusions and questions, these are cobbled together below:

Just because its a console it doesn't immediately make it motivating or fun- Its that age old lesson of it's not the technology its the teacher and what he or she does with it again, but I have seen kids with a console in font of them looking thoroughly bored.

However motivation is the key- and this is what we as educators need to build on and reflect upon when we think about gaming- what is the motivating factor? I believe it is as simple as challenge and competition. The reason I keep coming back to the very noneducational Sonic Rush is to get to the next level and increase my score. Why do kids enjoy brain training- its because they enjoy the competition, they like to compete against themselves to reduce their brain age and if we're honest they want to know how they stand in comparison to others in the class.

Why use DS for a task that pencil and paper or an IWB will replicate faster - if you use Pictochat to send sums or messages- you can not easily edit these as a class or look at how to solve them together. This may be a whizzy thing to do, but actually it adds nothing to Maths learning

As with any resource organisation is key, you need enough to go round and you need system for giving out the consoles, charging them and securely storing them needs to be clear.

Usage time needs to be sensible- the device should not replace the Maths lesson and is perhaps best at home as an oral mental starter or during the registration period.

Projects need to be outcome focused, we are subject to outside onlookers such as parents and other advisory colleague. If we are to prove that consoles and gaming have any benefit, then we need to scrutinise and reflect upon what learners are doing with these devices and think carefully about how and why we are going to use them and why. As with any piece of kit, it is easy to buy a load and then think later about why you bought them. That said there will be other outcomes and new uses that you might not expect .


Back to Oakdale

The Friday before the ICT conference I visited the school to see how they were using the Nintendo DS. I had heard that all children were using these and though perhaps this was not how I had seen the project I was still excited to see what was going on.

Sometimes in this role you watch a lesson, or visit somewhere and you get that excitement that something amazing is going on and this was such a visit, i wasn't prepared for the high level of enthusiasm and stringent organisation of the project I saw.

I went in to the end of a Year Four Lesson where children had just finished using the Brain Training application.

I asked some of the children what they had been doing and tried to live blog what they were saying, though it was hard to stay focused with such excitement all around:

  • We done brain age check and I was 80, then I got to 70 but now I am 37
  • I think Nintendo is very good because now I am getting a smaller brain age
  • The brain age thing is helping me learn
  • All of them lot their brain is 36
I asked what are your favourite games, i was surprised that many of them said Brain Training, even after further grilling from me. Though one girl was convinced that her mum liked her playing Cooking Mama 2, as it helped her become a better cook.

I chatted to the teacher in Year four, who told me how engaged all her pupils had been in using the device, and that this was not dependent on ability and furthermore this had turned some underachievers onto maths. It wasn't strictly teaching the children times tables, but they were going home and learning their times tables, so that when they came back to school they could use that knowledge to beat their score. She has then noticed that this was having an impact on their recall of multiplication facts outside of DS use.

I have been nagging them since September to learn their tables, this has given them the motivation to do just that.

Other interesting observations from the teacher was that children were keen to extraordinarily keen to complete the reading aloud tasks on Brain training, despite the complexity and dull nature of these texts. Some of the more reluctant readers in the class want to read these texts too!

Following my visit to Year 4 , I went to watch Dawn's lesson in Year 6. It was the end of SATS week, but the class were still full of energy and perfectly on-task. A number of things struck me as I watched at the back. Firstly the teacher knew her device and the game and as the class did their brain age assessment, she too mucked in and tested her own brain. Thus throwing on its head the Prensky digital immigrants natives thing, that has been so helpful in affirming some teachers in their stance of technological ignorance. The class begun together with Dawn asking who can see Dr Kawashima, and telling children to ignore some of the seemingly pointless wittering he offers. I also noticed how well the consoles were organised both in this class and across the school. Friday was charging day and all machines were going to be collected in ready for next week. It also takes some organising to get all of the large junior schools children at least three allotted slots with the DS each week.

Once the children had moved passed Dr Kawashima's opening speech they were off and the class was in silence. There was a buzz in the room that I can't explain, and then after a while children started smiling and putting down their machines. They then moved to the teachers desk where they recorded their brain age on a class paper tracker. There were a number of quite cries of yeahs across the room as some children, teacher and TA saw their brain age decrease.

And that was it, it only lasted about 20 minutes and the children then moved onto their next lesson. The use of the console did not replace or take over the whole of the Maths lesson, thus it did not interfere with day to day work. It also sent a message of balance to the children they did not need to be spending large amounts of time involved in gaming, a message clearly echoed in Byron's report.

I chatted to some of the children and their thoughts are here:

  • We've been doing daily training- my score is 38
  • It challenges you to get a better brain age- coz you have to time limits- its good to beat your score
  • It helps in your multiplication work
  • We have been playing with them and some of it has been hard and some very easy I found the connect maze hard.
  • I play brain training at home and it helps your brain power- it sort of works up your brain and helps you with your mental maths
  • I know we have to give these back but we'd like to keep these to help us get stronger at maths

I think the reason that the Nintendo project is working so well here is down to a number of factors, but mainly because of all of the organisation, hard work and inspiration from the ICT coordinator. Also the school as a whole have embraced this project and most staff, the head and parents appear to be on-board.

Dawn has her criticisms and frustrations with Nintendo, notably the annoying nature of Dr Kawishma's comments and the difficulty in recording data for a large number of children. But she is in contact with Nintedno, so who knows.


Derek P Robertson said...

Great to read about your experiences with the Nintendo DS and Dr Kawashima in the classroom. I couldn't help but feel pleased with what you wrote because it almost replicated what our experiences so far in Scotland have been with them. We are sure that learning via these devices has real merit and purpose if used appropriately by the teacher. You mention that the DS doesn't teach them maths but helps them want to improve thus encouraging the children to take other steps to get their number bonds in their heads. We noticed this too. You also mentioned the teacher being at ease with the device. We noticed this too and believe that the low technology skills threshhold of the device and game is something that allows teachers to develop their confidence to the extent that they have no concerns/qualms about using it in their class.
Great stuff folks and thanks for sharing it witrh us. I can now ad this to the growing list of practice in this field to show people how this idea is taking root.

David Noble said...

I really appreciate the effort that you have put into this reflective post. I am using a class set of DSs with two of my Maths classes - it will be a sustainable initiative, I'm sure, and it is interesting to hear similar comments and perspectives from the pupils that you are working with.

The only aspect that I am uncomfortable with is the pre-, post-test, experiment style desire/requirement to show measurable outcomes. This is for two reasons: firstly, this form of research may be a requirement of governmental agencies, however it is largely discredited in terms of offering evidence of something that will be replicated if implemented in a different school/region/month etc; secondly, why should the use of game consoles in learning have to be subject to such action/large-scale research - almost all of what we currently do isn't.

All the best.

visualiser fan said...

thanks for sharing this post

Daniel Binns said...

Hi there, Daniel here from the Guardian who wrote the original piece. Very interesting to read your post on this. I am sorry that you felt the article was slightly inaccurate. I did mention the trials in Scotland etc in my original piece but those sentences mysteriously vanished during the transition to the finished page... But technically I believe Oakdale is still the first in England to teach all its pupils with DSs- the other schools have only taught some of their pupils (the odd class). But please do stay in touch as we are keen at the Guardian to keep an eye on this and see how it all goes.

All the best Daniel

P.s. That's fairly typical of the Sun, they often nick the odd story from us!

Graham Brown-Martin said...

Great work here!

Keep it up :-)

Dawn Hallybone said...

Thanks for the blog Anthony - a great piece. We have loved having the consoles in school, and I have been lucky in that the whole school are totally on board. The way that the children and adults have responded have amazed me - there are now lots of other thnigs that we are looking at, these include asking the children to record their thoughts in abook, to come up with games, ideas that they would like to see and other ways of using it. I am currently looking at my first word coach at home and my first French coach as well. It is a very exciting venture to be involved in and thanks must go to Anthony for coming up with the idea and buying them in for the borough. I can't wait to see where this goes!
Dawn Hallybone

Mike said...

good post

Martina said...

Whats good beginning to look like wish he all the best.

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